A film review by Craig J. Koban November 22, 2015

RANK: 23


2015, G, 92 mins.


Noah Schnapp as Charlie Brown (voice)  /  Bill Melendez as Snoopy / Woodstock (voice--archive)  /  Venus Schultheis as Pepperment Patty (voice)  /  Hadley Belle Miller as Lucy van Pelt (voice)  /  Madisyn Shipman as Violet Grey (voice)  /  Francesca Capaldi as The Little Red-Haired Girl/Frieda (voice)  /  Noah Johnston as Schroeder (voice)  /  Alexander Garfin as Linus (voice)  /  Mariel Sheets as Sally Brown (voice)  /  A.J. Tecce as Pig-Pen (voice)  /  Marleik Mar Mar Walker as Franklin (voice)  /  Rebecca Bloom as Marcie (voice)  /  Anastasia Bredikhina as Patty (voice)  /  William Wunsch as Shermy (voice)

Directed by Steve Martino  /  Written by Craig Schulz, Cornelius Uliano and Bryan Schulz


THE PEANUTS MOVIE made me happy while watching it in ways that so very few modern films do.  

There’s not an ounce of cynicism to be found in its 92 minutes.  Based, of course on the iconic Charles M. Schultz comic strip that debuted – gasp! – 65 years ago, THE PEANUTS MOVIE positively radiates feel-good optimism and joyous nostalgia.  Adults in my age bracket, no doubt, grew up with Schultz’s magnificently simple, yet wholeheartedly endearing comics – that eventually segued into equally cherished TV specials and movies – which makes watching this new animated film (the first of its kind featuring this universe in 35 years) a real nostalgic trip.  Thankfully, and rather refreshingly, the purest essence of Schultz’s work has been lovingly preserved here, even while using cutting edge computer animation.  THE PEANUTS MOVIE looks both of our time and of Schultz’s era, which is what ultimately makes it so winning. 

Co-written by the son and grandson of Schultz and produced by Blue Sky Studios, THE PEANUTS MOVIE never once makes any egregious attempts to modernize Charlie Brown and gang for contemporary consumption.  If anything, the makers here show a great reverence for the aesthetic minimalism of Schultz’s original line work that occupied nearly 18,000 strips during his series’ lifespan.  This preserves the timelessness of the comic strip’s overall look and feel, while at the same time maintaining the overall integrity of Schultz’s characters.  No effort has been made to mess with the series formula here: Charlie Brown is still a positive minded, but clumsy and luckless blockhead; Linus is still a blanket carrying child with an oral fixation on his thumb; Lucy is still a domineeringly bossy know-it-all; Schroeder is still a Beethoven loving piano player; Peppermint Patty is still a naïve tomboy; Pig Pen is still a child with horrendous lack of proper hygiene; and Snoopy is still a free-wheeling and mischievous canine that sometimes thinks he’s a WWI pilot. 



If THE PEANUTS MOVIE were to have a weakness then I guess it would be that it’s overall storyline sometimes struggles to find ways to fill its already short running time.  Yet, the narrative itself is as sweetly uncomplicated as the film’s overall look, which compliments it when all is said and done.  The film opens in the dead of winter, but during a snow day off from school, which affords Charlie Brown and his companion’s ample opportunity to fully explore their world (along with viewers).  Charlie still wants to be an admired hero in the face of his many school colleagues, but in pure Charlie Brownian fashion he fails miserably at every waking moment.  He’s given a new lease on his young life with the appearance of a cute red haired girl that’s new to his school, affectionately and rather appropriately named "The Little Red-Haired Girl."  She not only shares the same classes with Charlie, but even lives across the street from him.  Good grief!  The pressure! 

Of course, Charlie takes it upon himself to do anything to win the affections of The Little Red Haired Girl, which involves – among other things – learning how to dance, reading War and Peace, and mastering magic for a local school talent school.  Rather predictably, when success looks like its just around the corner, poor ol’ Charlie has the rug pulled from under his feet that trips him up into utter failure.  While he's trying to bolster up the courage to ask the girl of his dreams out on a date, his loving and faithful pet Snoopy has eyes on a woman, so to speak, as well…at least in his imagination.  Sprinkled frequently throughout THE PEANUTS MOVIE are multiple sequences involving the big nosed doggie swooping through the air on his doghouse engaging in aerial dogfights against his WWI adversary The Red Baron.  He does so while trying to save his love Fifi from the ravages of war.  

THE PEANUTS MOVIE is a masterfully rendered gateway experience as far as animated films go.  Again, the overall technical approach utilized here is absolutely crucial to its overall success.  All of the characters are instantly recognizable and look like they’ve been plucked right from Schultz’s comic pages.  There’s a rough, yet refined and elegant look to Charlie Brown and company here, which is only heightened by the lush and bright backgrounds that have a more textured and realistic sheen to them.  The healthy balance between preserving Schultz’s artwork and marring it with the slickness of computer generated imagery here is kind of a thankless one.  Too much CGI would have robbed the characters of their loveable quirkiness and essence, whereas an overly unsophisticated look would have made the film look cheaply uninspired.  Miraculously, THE PEANUTS MOVIE embraces the hand drawn legacy of its comic strip world while introducing it to a legion of new young viewers (ones that are mightily accustomed to animated films from the Pixar and Dreamworks catalogue) that have never been exposed to Schultz’s work before.   

The voice talent is completely on point in the film as well.  A dangerous creative misstep, I feel, would have been to secure a well-known group of established actors (or, worse yet, adults performing and playing as young characters) to help sell the film.  Fortunately, THE PEANUTS MOVIE cast a crew of relatively unknown child voice actors with limited experience to play the various characters, which has the intended side effect of making Charlie Brown and his pals sound and feel like credible school age children.  And consider this: why would anyone want known and established celebrities voicing these legendary character?  That would have been an obnoxious distraction.  The child actors here immerse themselves in their respective characters to the point of making THE PEANUTS MOVIE feel all the more relatable and authentic.  We feel tangible pity for Charlie Brown because there’s a real child emoting through him. 

THE PEANUTS MOVIE also perfectly encapsulates one of the prevailing themes that dominated Schultz’s strip for decades: Never give up, no matter what the personal obstacles are.  Yes, Charlie Brown is a doofus that frequently suffers from chronic low self-worth.  He can’t fly a kite.  He can’t kick a football for the life of him.  He’s incapable of striking out anyone one – including an inanimate snowman – while playing baseball.  Yet, he courageously picks himself up after every embarrassing social indiscretion that befalls him with an “Aw, shucks” gumption and proceeds to…try again.  He’s a doofus that’s never content with being a doofus.  He strives to be better, even when outside pressures and unforeseen circumstances make it impossible.  What’s ultimately kind of moving about THE PEANUTS MOVIE – and the comics that inspired it – is that Charlie Brown is a humiliated child that wants to be a hero.  He yearns to be better.  I can’t think of a better message for children. 

This brings me to one last thing: It frankly annoys me how so many critics have been complaining that THE PEANUTS MOVIE is not cutting edge enough or tries to take Schultz’s creations in daring new directions.  Huh?  Are you kidding me?  THE PEANUTS MOVIE may lack a thorough sense of dramatic complexity, yes, but it’s not supposed to.  The narrative here should be as straightforward and cheerful as the animated expressions on the character's faces.  What proudly separates this movie from the pack of so many other modern animated films is its complete detachment from pop cultured laced cynicism.  This film is not trying to be snarky or subversive.  THE PEANUTS MOVIE is a loving ode to the heart-warming wholesomeness the work of Charles Schultz.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  

And it made me happy. 

  H O M E